By Jonathan Gault
January 8, 2015
The London Marathon announced its men’s elite field on Thursday morning, headlined by the showdown between defending champion/course record holder Wilson Kipsang and his training partner, world record holder Dennis Kimetto.
Our analysis of that development can be found here: The Greatest Marathon Field Ever? Kipsang Vs. Kimetto Vs. Bekele Vs. Kipchoge – 6 Thoughts On 2015 Virgin Marathon Field.
There was a media conference call following the announcement featuring Kipsang and former race director David Bedford (who still works for the London Marathon in international relations and securing the elite field). Here are my quick takeaways:
1) Wilson Kipsang believes the field could attack the world record if the conditions are right.
“If the weather is okay and the guys are ready to go for a fast time we could do it on that course,” Kipsang said. He added that the ideal conditions would be a still day with temperatures in the 10-15 degree Celsius range (50-59 degrees Fahrenheit). If those conditions are met, Kipsang said he’d like to go out at 61:35 for the first half of the race and try to run a negative split WR (even-split world record pace is 61:28; Kimetto went out in 61:45 in his world record in Berlin).
That is a little worrying as that’s just one second slower than what the lead men went through 13.1 in back in 2013, which led to carnage over the second half of the race and a pedestrian 2:06:04 winning time. There’s no need to freak out about a half marathon split Kipsang proposed three months before the race (and again, that’s what he’d like to go out in if conditions are perfect), but it’s a starting point for a discussion of whether the world record is attainable.
61:34 proved to be too fast for Kipsang and the rest of the lead pack in 2013. Was it because they ran the splits in the wrong way in 2013, going out in 14:26 for the first 5k, or is 61:34 simply too fast to run for the first half in London?
Here’s what the leaders split for each of the first five 5ks in 2013, compared to the last two world records (Kimetto in Berlin in 2014 and Kipsang in Berlin in 2013).
|London 2013||Berlin 2013||Berlin 2014|
|10k||28:56 (14:30)||29:16 (14:43)||29:23 (14:42)|
|15k||43:43 (14:47)||43:45 (14:29)||44:09 (14:46)|
|20k||58:28 (14:45)||58:20 (14:35)||58:35 (14:26)|
|25k||1:12:58 (14:30)||1:13:13 (14:53)||1:13:08 (14:33)|
Like the 2013 London splits, Kipsang and Kimetto’s world record splits were jumbled, but in both cases, neither went out nearly as fast for the first 10k as the leaders did at 2013 London. The last bit of the first 5k in London features a sharp 120-foot drop, but going out faster at 14:30 or faster for either of the first two miles seems to be a mistake. The field went out in 14:26 in 2013 and paid for it later; a 14:21 opening 5k last year killed any chance of a 2:03 as four of the next five 5k splits were 14:50 or slower. World record pace for the marathon is 14:34 per 5k, so you’re going to need some quick ones in there at some point, but recent history suggests that you should hold on until at least 10k before really ratcheting it up.
If the field goes out sensibly, there’s a chance someone could at least threaten the world record. Kipsang ran 2:02:43 pace from 30k to the finish last year in London (though 5k-30k was covered at 2:06:01 pace).
World records have been broken in London before. Khalid Khannouchi set the men’s record in 2002; the women’s record has gone down in London five times, including Paula Radcliffe‘s still-standing 2:15:25 from 2003. With good conditions and good rabbiting, there shouldn’t be much of a difference between the relatively flat London course and the flat Berlin course except London has a lot more turns.
And yet, whether due to the weather, the course, or the race organizers knowing how to stage a record attempt, it seems hard to imagine any world record being set outside of Berlin right now. The last six world records have gone down in Berlin and the German capital is home to nine of the fastest 20 performances of all-time, including #1, #4, #5 and #6 (it’s #1, #2, #3 and #4 if you throw out the kooky wind-aided 2011 Boston Marathon).
The fastest time ever run in London is Kipsang’s 2:04:29 from last year and that’s only 20th on the all-time list of performances. In the past nine years, the London winner has been faster than the Berlin winner only once even though London has attracted MUCH MORE talent over that span. With smarter pacing, Kipsang (or someone else) can undoubtedly better his 2014 course record. But it’s hard to imagine anyone lopping 1:33 off that time. The Kipsang that won London in 2014 was in the prime of his career and coming off a world record in Berlin. Is anyone — even the 2015 version of Wilson Kipsang — really 1:33 better than Wilson Kipsang in his prime?
Of course, things change. Kipsang wanted to go after the course record in New York last fall but high winds caused him to ditch that plan. How fast he goes out in London will be dictated by the conditions and the competition more than chasing the world record.
2) Kipsang believes that the key to eradicating doping in Kenya is education.
Kipsang recognized that doping was a problem right now in his home nation of Kenya, but he said that he believes it is one that can be overcome. He said the key lies in education.
“There are measures underway to clean up the sport,” Kipsang said. “Many of the athletes, they don’t understand. We are trying to create awareness.”
Kipsang said he hoped that once the athletes recognize how big of a problem doping is — and that Kenyan dopers like Rita Jeptoo are getting caught — that the athletes will fall in line and compete clean. When asked about whether he has grown impatient waiting to receive his $500,000 for winning the 2013-14 World Marathon Majors, he said it was not a problem as long as it shows that he is clean.
Kipsang was also asked about whether he was satisfied with the way Athletics Kenya is being run right now after AK announced that Kipsang missed an out-of-competition drug test in November. Kipsang had told AK that he would be at a conference in South Africa on the day of the test and was upset that AK announced the missed test, viewing it as an attempt to smear his name. Kipsang said that the IAAF is aware that AK has not been doing a great job recently and that AK chairman Isaiah Kiplagat has to win back the confidence of the athletes. Ideally, Kipsang hopes the athletes and the federation can air their differences and find common ground on issues like doping.
3) Three positive thoughts from David Bedford.
i) On why London consistently attracts a top-notch field:
“I think it’s a fairly easy [answer]. The easy [answer] is that we have a strong budget to encourage the best athletes in the world to come to London. But it’s not just about money. We have, over the last 20 years, developed a race that ahtletes who come to London feel as if they’re being treated as professionals, in a technically perfect way. And from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave we do everything to make sure they run as well as possible.”
I told Bedford that we at LetsRun.com said that this year’s field could be the greatest in history — as we seemingly do every year. His response? “You can hold this year’s headline on your webpage for next year.”
ii) On what makes the marathon great:
“I think it’s fair to say that historically the marathon has not had a problem with people avoiding each other and I think this is a great example. You could perhaps make the argument because Dennis and Wilson train together that their strategy might be, ‘If we race two different marathons, we have a higher chance of winning one each.’ I think it’s outstanding that they have both agreed to come and show which of them is best in the world at this time and that can only be good for the sport.”
iii) On doping in major marathons:
“I think it’s fair to say as an event, we’ve had quite an extended period of being relatively unaffected by this scourge in comparison to other events. The London Marathon and the World Marathon Majors are at the very center of ensuring that there is adequate testing and that anyone who is found cheating will not be welcome back to any of our events.”
I believe that when Bedford was saying “as an event,” he was referring to the London Marathon. My intention is not to attack him, but it should be pointed out that it’s difficult to claim London is “cleaner” than other majors just as it would be difficult to claim that a race like Boston or Chicago is dirtier because that’s where Rita Jeptoo chose to race. All WMM races have drug testing — it’s the athletes that are dirty, not the races.
Bedford was likely just happy that London isn’t in the unfortunate situation of Boston/Chicago. Both races will likely strip Jeptoo of her 2014 titles, but it’s not clear how far back they’ll go. Jeptoo won Boston in 2006 and 2013 and Chicago in 2013; will those wins stay on the books? Still, London is far from immune. Convicted doper Liliya Shobukhova of Russia finished in the top three at the London Marathon every year from 2009 to 2011, winning in 2010. Another convicted doper, the late Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco, was second at London in 2007, third in 2008 and sixth in 2009.
Bedford added that he views the the recent doping news from Kenya and Russia as an opportunity for athletics to increase testing and increase the penalties for those who test positive. Indeed, such efforts are already underway as the World Anti-Doping Agency increased its ban for first-time offenders from two to four years on January 1.